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Author Topic: Setting our thoughts in parallel  (Read 128 times)
Joe Carillo
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« on: October 26, 2017, 08:00:14 AM »

One of the most powerful tools for organizing and presenting ideas is parallel construction. Indeed, it cannot be overemphasized that making our sentences grammatically and semantically correct is simply not  enough. We should also ensure that each of their grammatical structures that are alike in function follows the same pattern, for the observance of this basic stylistic rule very often spells the difference between good and bad writing.

THE PARALLEL CONSTRUCTION CONCEPT IN ENGLISH GRAMMAR


Let us first examine a simple sentence to give us a better idea of the power of parallel construction: “Alberto likes reading, jogging, and to play computer games.” The sentence is structurally disjointed and doesn’t read well because not all of its serial elements follow the same pattern. Although the first two elements, “reading” and “jogging,” are in parallel because both are gerunds (“-ing” noun forms), the third, “to play computer games,” ruins the parallelism because they are infinitives (“to” + the verb stem).


CORRECTING UNPARALLEL VERBAL (INFINITIVE AND GERUND) STRUCTURES
INTO ALL-INFINITIVE STRUCTURES


CORRECTING UNPARALLEL VERBAL (TWO NOUN PHRASES, ONE GERUND PHRASE) STRUCTURES
INTO ALL-NOUN PHRASE STRUCTURES


One way to fix this structural problem is to put the third element also in gerund form, “playing computer games,” so that the sentence reads this way: “Alberto likes reading, jogging, and playing computer games.” It’s now grammatically balanced and no longer sounds stilted.

Another way for the original sentence to achieve parallelism is to make all three of its serial elements take the infinitive form: “Alberto likes to read, to jog, and to play computer games.” This sentence can be streamlined even further by using “to” only once right before the first of the all-infinitive parallel elements: “Alberto likes to read, jog, and play computer games.”

In actual practice, we have to put in parallel not only single words or short phrases but much more complicated grammatical structures such as extended phrases and clauses as well as long serial lists. However, the basic rule for parallel construction remains the same: never mix grammatical forms. We have to choose the most appropriate form for the similar or related ideas, then stick to the same pattern all the way.


APPLICATIONS OF THE ALL-PARALLEL-STRUCTURE RULE IN SENTENCE CONSTRUCTION


Consider the sentence below with three extended grammatical elements that aren’t all in parallel:

“The chief executive decided to terminate the advertising manager because he rarely managed to come up with the company’s TV commercials on time, approved the publication of several major print advertising with serious grammar errors, and his relations with both his staff and the advertising agencies were very bad.”

The first subordinate clause, “he rarely managed to come up with the company’s TV commercials on time,” is in parallel with the second subordinate clause, “(he) approved the publication of several major print advertising with serious grammar errors,” because both are active verb forms using “he” (the advertising manager) as the subject. However, the third subordinate clause, “his human relations with both his staff and the advertising agencies were very poor,” disrupts the parallelism because it is in the passive verb form and takes for its subject not “he” but another noun form, “his relations with both his staff and the advertising agencies.”

See how much better the sentence reads when the third element is modified to become parallel with the first two:

“The chief executive decided to terminate the advertising manager because he rarely managed to come up with the company’s TV commercials on time, allowed the publication of several major print advertising with serious grammar errors, and related very badly with both his staff and the advertising agencies.”

In the above all-parallel reconstruction, the noun phrase “his relations with both his staff and the advertising agencies” has been rewritten into an active-verb phrase, “related very badly with both his staff and the advertising agencies,” to match the active-verb form of the other two phrases in the set.

We’ll go deeper into the various ways of achieving parallelism next week.

This essay, 1063rd in the series, appeared in the column “English Plain and Simple” by Jose A. Carillo in the Education Section of the October 26, 2017 issue (print edition only) of The Manila Times, © 2017 by the Manila Times Publishing Corp. All rights reserved.



(Next week: Sustaining parallel patterns all the way)     November 2, 2017
« Last Edit: October 26, 2017, 07:41:55 PM by Joe Carillo » Logged

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